Finding work for idle hands: making, baking and more.

The swifts are arriving April 27, 2010

Filed under: Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 7:55 pm

This morning as I set off for work, I saw a solitary swift flying high above our street, the first one I’ve seen this year. I was in the garden this evening, watching the skies to see if there were any more, and I spotted a group of four swifts soaring around. I am so happy to see them – it was such a long winter and it’s good to know they made it back here after their long journey south to Africa. One of my favourite things about summer is standing in the garden and watching them fly around high above me.

As you’d expect, the RSPB website has plenty of information about swifts, including a couple of little craft projects for children: you can even make a swift finger puppet! My favourite fact about swifts is this one: “After leaving the nest where they hatched, they’ll keep flying non-stop for three years!” Have they arrived in your neck of the woods yet?


An Elizabethan home April 25, 2010

Filed under: Places to go — lauravw @ 3:34 pm

Right now it’s stormy outside – the wind has picked up and the skies have darkened. But yesterday was a different story: blue skies and sunshine, and the first day of the year where I’ve felt too hot. (This happens early in the year for me: I don’t like being too hot, and I burn easily so spend the summer months under a large hat, or indoors where the sun’s rays can’t reach me.)

We knew the weather would be nice on Saturday, so we’d made plans ahead of time: get up early and go to Wollaton Park. We wanted to be there early so we could enjoy it in peace and quiet – it’s a popular place and a sunny Saturday would soon draw the crowds. Wollaton is owned by the local council, and so it’s free to get in to both the park and the house itself. I find it amazing that you can simply walk up to a building of this age and potter around it as much as you like – it was built back in the 16th century, which means Queen Elizabeth the first was on the throne. I wonder if she ever visited this place?

There’s a little cafe with a decent selection of cakes, and not for from the park’s entrance is a new pub that we’ll have to check out on a future visit – the Wollaton. I hear they do afternoon tea, which is the ideal thing for a pub near such a big park to offer.

Above us, in those sunny blue skies, we saw the first swallows of summer. Just one or two, but it’s a start. We also saw a family of ducklings on the lake – again, the first we’ve seen this year. I made a (very) short film of them on the water. Other sightings included a sparrowhawk, buzzards, jays, and a little wren. There are deer in the park too, but we only saw them from a distance on this visit. From our garden yesterday we saw a heron flying overhead, as well as a couple of swans – not something we see that often. It’s been a busy weekend for wildlife around here.

If you’d like to see more of Wollaton, you might like to look at the rest of my photos from our visit.


Brownies for breakfast* April 19, 2010

Filed under: Food — lauravw @ 8:23 am

Today is my 32nd birthday. I have the day off work, and am pottering around happily. I’m on my own this morning, but this afternoon my parents are coming over and we’re planning to have afternoon tea at The Walk, an elegant little cafe hidden in an alleyway in Nottingham. (Please keep your fingers crossed that my dad doesn’t spot how pricey it is there!)

Most of my birthday celebrating was done yesterday, and I’ve opened a few presents each day – which is cheating a little as it made my birthday longer… Yesterday morning, after opening a few presents, we went for a walk along the canal – where we spotted a TURTLE. Not an everyday sighting in these parts as they are not a native species. I emailed the UK Nature Blog and they have quickly and very kindly given me a bit of information about turtles in the UK.

In the afternoon we baked brownies – I like to undercook them, so that you get plenty of gooey fudginess. We had them for pudding with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a generous drizzle of some rather fancy sauce: Whiskey Walnut Caramel Sauce, from a book called Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey (which is one of the prettiest baking books around, and has some very appealing recipes in it). We used pecans rather than walnuts, because the shops only had enormous bags of walnuts for sale and I don’t know what I’d use the rest for. It’s quite a boozy sauce, with plenty of bourbon in it. The book says it will mellow over the course of a few days, so I’m looking forward to trying some later to see how it tastes today (it was a bit rich for me yesterday).

The main thing I had planned for my birthday was a trip on the Big Wheel in Nottingham city centre. You can see it in this picture, which I took on my birthday last year. However, when I went into town on Friday the wheel had vanished, without leaving a trace. I should have checked the dates. We were near it the other day but the weather wasn’t very good, so it didn’t seem like the best time to go on it. Looking at that picture from last year, I don’t know why I didn’t go on it then… Oh well, I expect it will be back next year.

Finally, I’d like to thank Gemma for the sparkler she sent me earlier this year – I had saved it for a special occasion and so finally used it yesterday.

*And yes, I did have a brownie for breakfast today. But it was a little too early in the day to have the whiskey sauce with it.


Watching the skies April 17, 2010

Filed under: Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 9:29 pm

What an odd year it’s been in the UK. We began the year with a landscape that was entirely white, from head to toe. And now, there’s that pesky giant cloud of invisible volcanic ash that hovers over our heads.

I’m lucky enough to have not been directly affected by the cancellation of flights, and so instead the ash cloud holds for me fascination, rather than frustration. The skies above our house have been free of planes since Thursday – no vapour trails left above us, no engine noise. It’s very odd. I keep checking the news to see what the latest is, and I’m intrigued by the pictures people are posting of hazy sunsets caused by the ash in the atmosphere. As you can see from this photo I took in the garden today, the skies are blue but possibly a little hazy – or am I starting to imagine that?

Amongst my friends and family I know of a few people who’ve been disrupted, both for the better (my brother is being put up in a fancy hotel in Dubai by his airline until the planes can start flying again) and for the worst (friends who should have left for Australia on Friday will now not be able to travel on what was a long-anticipated holiday). If you’ve got travels planned, I hope for your sake they are local!


A visit to Bradgate Park April 11, 2010

Filed under: Places to go,Radio and TV — lauravw @ 3:45 pm

We’ve had a few days of spring sunshine here in the Midlands, and there is blossom everywhere – not to mention all the daffodils. Our luck is sure to run out soon, and so on Friday I grabbed the opportunity to visit Bradgate Park in Leicestershire while the skies were still blue.

When I was little, we lived in one of the nearby villages (Cossington – you can actually see my old house in this picture, it’s the one with the red door. My bedroom window was the one upstairs on the right.) and often visited Bradgate. Friday was the last day of the school Easter holidays, and the warm sunshine meant the park was packed with families. For me, the park is at its best when it’s quiet and peaceful, but I tried to remember that 20 odd years ago, I was one of those children running around that very same park, playing in the stream and making all kinds of noise.

As well as the streams and rocky scenery, there is another aspect to this park that makes it very appealing to children: a TARDIS. It doesn’t actually say it’s a TARDIS, but I think we all know that’s what it is. The signage says it’s a police box, but I’ve never seen the police anywhere near it, so I’m not buying that.

Have you been watching the new Doctor Who? I loved the first episode. The second one was on last night, and while I thought it was very creative and well-written, I found it rather sad and depressing. Not one I’d watch again – but hopefully the rest of the series won’t be so gloomy.


Easter and eating April 5, 2010

Filed under: Food — lauravw @ 1:26 pm

So how was your Easter? Much as I love chocolate, it was the four day weekend that was the biggest treat for me. We saw friends and family, and pottered about. I found the time to cut out the pattern pieces for my Study Hall skirt. It takes me ages to cut out pattern pieces and then fabrics – so I had to wait until I had a clear stretch of time in which to work. And before I could do that, there was plenty of indecisiveness on my part – what length to make the skirt, and in what size (I was between sizes, and wondered if I should be ambitious and make it on the small size. I opted to make it for the size I actually am, rather than could be – that seemed like the sensible thing to do…).

I’ve also had time for a bit of cooking – including a coffee cake covered in Mini Eggs (which meant I could eat the leftover Mini Eggs – another reason why making a smaller skirt would have been foolish). When I’m planning a meal, I often fall back on recipes I’ve used time and time again. I do try out new recipes, but I’m always more likely to go with the tried and tested. During the past week or two I’ve been busy trying new things, in part as a result of my fairy godmother at Abel and Cole. I received a package containing smoked tofu (which I had never tried before), delicious vegetable tortilla chips, Thai noodles, veggie burgers and more.

We tried the noodles and smoked tofu in a chow mein recipe from the BBC, and I’m not sure that was the best way to use smoked tofu. It really does taste smokey – I think perhaps some sort of dish involving a sticky barbecue sauce would have been a better idea. Will try that next time!

My favourite item from the delivery is a packet of Owl and Pussycat biscuits – these are very simple vanilla biscuits, cut into the shapes of owls and pussycats. The illustration on the box is lovely, and the biscuits themselves taste homemade. From looking at the Artisan Biscuits website, it seems they offer lots of grown-up biscuits too – but the little owls are not something you’d want to miss out on. Abel and Cole also sell Lion and Mouse ones.

And as you can see from this little video, our cat Daisy is very keen for Abel and Cole to come and collect her. I think she feels a new life in a food shop would be a dream come true.